A great post-season run for the men’s volleyball team took them all the way to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport Championships, where they fought hard and finished in fourth place. It was another great season for the squad, after they had a fifth-place at nationals last season.
After earning the number five seed for the championship tournament, the Huskies were matched up with the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds — the Atlantic champions — in the quarterfinals. With nerves affecting both sides in the early going, the teams settled in and gave the fans one of the best matches of the entire tournament.
With the Huskies falling behind 2–1 in the match and with their backs against the wall, the team showed tremendous resilience once again — which was a big reason they came as far as they did. Led by fifth-year Jordan Nowakowski, the Dogs powered their way back into the match and took the fourth set 25–20, setting up a dramatic fifth and decisive set.
Using the momentum they generated in the fourth, the Huskies kept rolling and took the match with a 15–10 victory in the final set. Nowakowski had a tournament-best 30 kills in the first-round win, but was more concerned about the victory than individual accolades.
“The shoulder was a little sore after but if the team needed it, I was happy to supply it. If I only got 10 or 15 kills it would have been fine, as long as we won,” Nowakowski said. “The guys may have had an off night, but the way we were passing and the way C.J. [Gavlas] was setting, I was pretty happy to do everything I could for the team.”
Moving on to the semi-finals, the Dogs found themselves up against the host team and top ranked University of McMaster Marauders — the same team who defeated them at last year’s CIS Championships in Saskatoon. With revenge on their mind, the Huskies gave the Marauders a scare, as they had an 18–13 lead in the opening set.
Using their sold-out gym as fuel, however, the Marauders clawed back and pulled out a marathon first set, by a score of 32–30. The tough opening loss set the tone for the remainder of the match, as the Marauders closed it out in straight sets, winning 26–24 and 25–19 to move on the final.
A few breaks the other way and it easily could have been the green and white advancing. Putting forth a tremendous effort, the Dogs have nothing to be ashamed of in their performance and Nowakowski said it’s a game he won’t forget anytime soon.
“Playing at home last year was something I’ll never forget, but playing at McMaster in their gym in front of 2,000 plus fans — I think my ears are still ringing from that experience, but it’s also a game I’ll never forget,” he said.
A little deflated from the heartbreaking loss the night before, the Dogs were swept in the bronze-medal match by conference rival Alberta. Despite the 1–2 record, the team was thrilled to finish fourth in the country and be a part of the always exciting CIS Championships.
Many thought the Dogs wouldn’t make the tournament, as with six games left in the season they sat with a 9–9 record and on the cusp of the conference playoffs. But when it mattered most, the team turned it on and peaked down the stretch, reeling off six straight victories to end the season and snag the fifth-seed in Canada West playoffs.
They then went on the road to Winnipeg, Man. and knocked off the Wesmen to qualify for the CanWest Final Four, where a 3–0 victory in the semi-finals punched their ticket to nationals. Although they fell 3–1 in the CanWest gold-medal game — to the eventual national champion Trinity Western Spartans — the Dogs had confidence heading to nationals, winning nine of their past 11 matches.
With a thrilling end to the season and his Huskie career, Nowakowski said the relationships formed over the course of his career mean more to him than any win ever could.
“This is the most tight-knit group I’ve ever been a part of. We love each other like brothers and we’ve grown as a team for sure since the beginning of the season,” Nowakowski said. “The friendships you make — wins and losses are what they are, but the friendships you form as brothers that’s what matters the most.”
Photos: Supplied / Alistair Boulby